Inconsistent College Alcohol Policies (Schizophrenic Campuses)

College are often using two popular but very conflicting approaches to reduce alcohol abuse. Thus, some have inconsistent college alcohol policies.

    1. inconsistent college alcohol policiesOne is an aggressive no-use, zero tolerance policy. It focuses on drinking or possession of alcohol. It stresses vigorous law enforcement and strong penalties. And it commonly attempts to “scare ’em straight.” It tries to do so by exaggerating the dangers of drinking abuse. (See Zero Tolerance.)
    2. The other is the social norms approach. It recognizes the reality of underage drinking and reduces the harms from alcohol abuse. It uses facts to correct the misperception that drinking and alcohol abuse are more common that they really are. This empowers students to abstain or to consume less. That’s what they usually prefer.

The Evidence

The evidence clearly shows that social norms marketing is a very effective method to reduce alcohol abuse. But it also shows that zero tolerance is not only ineffective by often counter productive. That is, it’s worse than doing nothing.

These two methods are based on greatly opposed assumptions and their use is inconsistent with each other.

But many colleges are using both at the same time. This greatly reduces that ability of social norms marketing to be effective. Stressing or even exaggerating drinking problems is inconsistent with publicizing the truth and correcting misperceptions.

Catering to pressures from different groups may be politically wise for college officials. But by doing, so they sacrifice the effectiveness of their programs and fail to meet the needs of students.

Resources: Inconsistent College Alcohol Policies

Web Pages


Hurley, R. Underage Drinking. NY: Nova, 2018.    

Perkins, H. and Perkins, J. Using the Social Norms Approach. In Cimini, M. and Rivero, E. (eds.), Promoting Health and Reducing Risk, NY: Routledge, 2018. Pp. 127-144.